Ireland, relatives mark 25th anniversary of Air India terrorist attack that claimed 329 lives

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Irish, relatives mourn ‘85 Air India terror attack

DUBLIN — Mourners and dignitaries observed a minute’s silence Wednesday at an Irish memorial garden honoring the 329 people killed when a terrorist bomb destroyed an Air India trans-Atlantic jet 25 years ago.

Politicians from Ireland, Canada and India joined relatives of the dead at the annual service at the Air India Memorial Garden in the remote Sheeps Head peninsula on Ireland’s West Cork coast.

They fell silent at 8:13 a.m. (0713GMT), the exact moment when a suitcase bomb hidden in the luggage hold of Air India Flight 182 detonated and the aircraft disappeared from radar screens.

All those aboard — chiefly Canadian citizens of Indian heritage bound for New Delhi and Mumbai — died as the Boeing 747 disintegrated and plunged 31,000 feet (9,500 meters) into the ocean about 120 miles (190 kilometers) off the Cork coast. Only 131 bodies were recovered.

“Those who use terrorism and violence in pursuit of their misguided objectives seek to divide people and communities with their agenda of hate and intolerance,” Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told the ceremony in the seaside garden, which features a stone sun dial permanently set to mark 8:13 a.m. on June 23.

“But looking at those gathered here today I see only unity, common purpose and a shared grief. This feeling of grief and loss transcends all boundaries. It joins us as one people,” Martin said.

Also taking part were Canada’s immigration minister, Jason Kenney, and India’s minister for minority affairs, Salman Khurshid.

The bombing, blamed on Canadian-based members of India’s Sikh minority, remains the biggest mass murder in Canadian legal history. Investigators found that two conspirators using false identifications exploited holes in Canadian security to check a suitcase bomb on to the plane without boarding the aircraft themselves.

Canadian prosecutors said Sikh extremists had sought revenge for the Indian military’s 1984 assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site of their religion. About 800 Sikhs, including militants taking refuge in the temple, were killed.

The alleged bombmaker was convicted of manslaughter in 1991 and received a 10-year sentence, but two Sikh men living in Vancouver, British Columbia, were acquitted in 2005 on 329 counts of murder.

Last week, a four-year probe into Canada’s anti-terrorist intelligence lapses, airport security gaps and investigatory failures following the Air India bombing published five volumes of damning findings. Its lead author, retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice John Major, said his nation had unfairly treated Flight 182’s destruction as a foreign tragedy.

“For too long the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has somehow been relegated outside the Canadian consciousness,” Major wrote.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to make a statement on the Air India atrocity later Wednesday.

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